Last week, a group of prominent casino and gaming officials, executives and stakeholders gathered for a lively panel discussion exploring the impact of casino gaming in Atlantic City.
The Dec. 8 “Celebrating 45 Years: Legalized Casino Gaming in New Jersey” event was held at Stockton University’s Atlantic City campus by the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism (LIGHT) in the Fannie Lou Hamer Event Room at the John F. Scarpa Academic Center.
While there remains debate over whether the arrival of casinos in Atlantic City has fulfilled its promise, the primary message from the panel and speakers was that gaming has completely transformed the resort town and will continue to do so in the future.
The panel, moderated by LIGHT Faculty Director Jane Bokunewicz, included:
“There are a tremendous amount of people who have made a life for themselves that they otherwise wouldn’t have had an opportunity to do by working in an industry that provides jobs with salaries and things they never expected in the town that existed here in 1977,” said Epps. “But there are some folks who feel like they have not received the full promise of what they were offered, and they’re still waiting for it to deliver.”
The event also included remarks from Leamor Kahanov, Stockton’s provost and vice president for academic affairs; former state Sen. Bill Gormley; and James Plousis, the chairman of the CCC.
“As neighbors in Atlantic City, Stockton University has had the opportunity to grow alongside the casino industry and witness the many changes that have taken place,” said Kahanov. “The Casino Control Commission has become a standard for other states to emulate.”
The importance of the CCC was a common refrain throughout the event, with Kahanov noting that the original idea to bring gaming to New Jersey and Atlantic City was not popular as the locale was considered a place for organized crime.
“You had an industry that was considered around the rest of the country as having been organized and funded by people that you didn’t want to invite to your house for dinner,” said Kahanov, pointing out that A.C. had a series of mayors who had gone to jail for various wrongdoings.
“So the idea of putting casinos in Atlantic City meant that you would take a corrupt industry and put it into a corrupt city that was located in a corrupt state,” he said.
Which is what made the CCC so vital, since the state had to make it clear that regulations were strong and enforcement was tough.
The panel agreed that the commission has accomplished that goal, with New Jersey’s casinos regulations becoming the gold standard and a blueprint that other states and countries have followed.
“After New Jersey showed it could ensure the good character, honesty and integrity of the industry, public confidence, trust and credibility grew in the casino industry,” said Plousis. “So, the industry started because of the good practices that Atlantic City has.”
Perskie believes, though, that while the city is better off because of casinos, disagreements between city and state governments have prevented it from reaching its full potential.
“My view is that the future is going to be dependent on what the industry does and what the government does,” said Perskie. “The industry will continue to do what it has continued to do; the question is, will the government continue to meet its responsibilities?”
The panel believes those include being at the forefront of recognizing, regulating and monetizing evolving trends — such as sports betting and esports.
“It’s very clear to me that New Jersey can be a leader to allow esports to be integrated into both the retail gaming environment, as well as the online gaming environment,” said Rebuck. “I see it as a challenge to beat Nevada to the punch.”
Kaufman hopes to see more diversity in top casino leadership positions.
“Why aren’t more women CEOs? We need more of them. We are trying but it’s a long process,” said Kaufman, noting that half of internet gaming and sports betting customers are women. “If you hire more diverse people at the top that represent your customers, you’re going to get a better product.”
Despite all of the headwinds and challenges, especially the industry’s continued recovery from the pandemic, the panelists agreed that there is a bright future ahead for gaming in Atlantic City.
“I see Atlantic City’s best years ahead of us,” said Giannantonio. “It’s going to require work, but it’s not brain surgery.”